Cake Invaders Review: You Want A Piece Of Me?
Look, I’ll be the first to admit that I have a sweet tooth when it comes to cake. I’m the guy who attends weddings, birthday parties, christenings (and any other ceremony where you might find this delicious dessert), not because I care about your special occasion, but because I want your free cake. Naturally, then, when I heard HPP was being provided with the opportunity to review Cake Invaders, a neat little arcade shooter that sees you take up arms in defense of a precious batch of Baumkuchen cake, I was absolutely on board.
Pure And Simple
Developed by Zoo Corporation, Cake Invaders is as simple as it comes in terms of its premise. Set out along the bottom of the screen is a line of delicious-looking portions of pixelated Baumkuchen cake, a German-inspired delicacy that I’ve come to learn is hugely popular in Japan. Hellbent on destroying this precious supply of Baumkuchen is an incoming army of extraterrestrial invaders.
Players initially take control of a solitary stationary avatar positioned in the middle of the screen whose job it is to use an incredibly underpowered weapon to take on the waves of alien foes before they reach the bottom of the screen, destroying your cake in the process. Honestly, picture Space Invaders, replace the structures at the bottom of the screen with cake, whilst removing the mobility of your avatar, and you almost have the full scope of what Cake Invaders offers.
I was hugely underwhelmed initially. Aiming felt imprecise, the lack of mobility felt overly restrictive, and the weapon in its initial, unmodified form made me feel as though I was being asked to defend my local bakery using nothing more than a pea shooter.
A Moreish Delight
Fight through the initial few waves of enemies, however, and Cake Invaders morphs from a chore into a delight that is as moreish as the cake you are trying to defend. Power-ups soon start dashing across the screen, which, if you manage to successfully land a shot on, will add an additional member to your fireteam (I’m not sure how large your team can become; the most I’ve seen is three of these power-ups appearing, however, this could be a result of bad RNG as opposed to a hard cap). This additional firepower completely transforms the game. Enemies go down easier, of course, and you naturally cover more of the screen which helps mitigate the frustration caused by the lack of mobility.
On top of the additional team members, you’ll soon also have access to alternative types of ammo, one of which enables rapid-fire, with the other providing you with additional damage. These aren’t permanent upgrades, however, with each power-up only providing you with a set number of alternative bullets. Initially, this design choice disappointed me as I love experiences with a steady power creep that eventually result in me feeling invincible. After spending more time with Cake Invaders and this system, though, I actually really warmed up to these temporary boosts in capabilities. It turns the game from an experience, which, on paper, is extremely straightforward, into a white-knuckle tightrope walk where you are constantly making split-second decisions as you assess the various on-screen threats, deciding when best to deploy your special ammo.
So many runs have resulted in me triggering, for example, my rapid-fire only to be greeted seconds later with a new enemy type that the power-up would have been much better suited for. Rather than frustrating, this constant micromanagement only added to Cake Invaders’ addictive nature as I would constantly analyze the error of my failed runs and jump back in immediately to try and course correct.
It all controls wonderfully as well; in a simple, but genius move from the developers, firing via the right trigger (when playing on Switch) automatically makes your entire team fire in unison at your solitary crosshair. This was the correct move, as no doubt having to switch between team members and manage their actions individually would completely detract from the immediacy and purity of Cake Invaders.
It’s difficult to find fault with Cake Invaders given how well it nails its simple, but effective gameplay loop. That being said, there are a couple of issues that hold the title back. My primary gripe is undoubtedly the visuals. The developers have opted for an incredibly basic pixel art look, and whilst I appreciate great pixel art, Cake Invaders suffers from having extremely boring and one-dimensional art direction. A bit of visual variety between the team members you acquire would definitely be welcomed, as would a bit more effort on the enemy design. Whilst there is a decent amount of different enemies, the actual design of the aliens themselves really lacks any sense of character or personality.
The sound design is also as lacking in variety as the visuals. It isn’t that what is here is bad, it’s just very bare-bones, especially in terms of the soundtrack. Initially, the chirpy tune that plays once you’re in-game provided me with a lovely sense of chiptune-infused nostalgia. Unfortunately, that nostalgia soon disappeared once I realized that no matter how long I played, or how far I progressed, the same tune (which consists of a handful of notes played in the same order over and over again) would continue to loop. Let me tell you, it was madness-inducing stuff, to the point where I typically would turn the game volume down completely and stick something else on in the background. Admittedly, this is a small issue given sound isn’t integral to the addictive nature of the experience, but a little more effort in changing up the soundtrack, even at important milestones such as every 10 waves, would have been appreciated.
Further limitations become apparent in terms of ways to play. You get one mode, an endless mode where the goal is simply to survive as many waves as possible, and that’s it. I get it, it’s a budget title, but I definitely would have appreciated a more structured mode perhaps with a couple of boss battles thrown in for good measure to break up the monotony of the standard enemies you encounter.
All that being said, I’ll be the first to admit that for the price point, my expectations with regards to the visuals and modes of play are perhaps unrealistic. Most importantly, Cake Invaders succeeds at providing short and succinct bursts of arcade fun, which is the exact niche you would imagine it was designed to fill. I’ve had a huge amount of fun with Cake Invaders, sitting up late into the night listening to my favorite podcasts and chasing down high scores on the leaderboards. For the price of a cup of coffee, it’s something I would easily recommend to fans of arcade shooters and leaderboard chasers.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC; Publisher: Zoo Corporation; Developer: Zoo Corporation; Players: 1; Released: January 26, 2022; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $5.99
Full Disclosure: This review is based on a review copy provided by the Publisher.